Whale Killers Convicted for Killing Gray Whale

One of the Makah tribes most prominent whale killers has been found guilty of unlawfully killing a California Gray whale near Cape Flattery in Washington State. U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Kelley Arnold on Monday found Wayne Johnson guilty along with Andy Noel, after the pair waived their right to a jury trial and admitted their roles.

Wayne Johnson is the captain of the Makah Whaling crew and in August of 2007, he and four other Makah whalers unlawfully harpooned and shot a whale close to shore. The whale took over 10 hours to die and then sank unrecovered in the Pacific.

Johnson along with Theron Parker killed a baby Gray whale in May 1999. Johnson shot the whale with a .50 caliber rifle. Johnson and Noel both were convicted of conspiracy to violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act and unlawfully taking a marine mammal.

Judge Arnold ruled that the killing of the whale was an action not protected under the 1st Amendment right to religious freedom. He also had denied their motions to dismiss the charges based on the Makah tribe's claim that they have a treaty right to kill whales.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Oesterle said the government had not taken a position on whether the men should serve jail time, but would follow the sentencing recommendation of experts who will review the men's circumstances. Sentencing is set for June 20. They face a maximum of one year in jail on each count.

Three of their co-defendants have already pleaded guilty. Theron Parker, William Secor Sr. and Frankie Gonzales each admitted in federal court that they violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

"This is an important legal victory," said Captain Paul Watson. "The killing of whales cannot be justified by tradition or religion. We stand with those Makah Elders who believe that the whale must now be respected and protected and that the days of killing whales are over."